When faced with the stress of planning new lessons with limited time, it’s easy to plan lessons that are neither efficient nor effective. Be mindful of the trap of “fake teaching” (walking like a teacher and talking like a teacher without thinking like a teacher) by reviewing your lesson plans with these seven reminders:
- Start with a learning objective. This will help you to keep the focus on student learning, rather than on filling the period with activities/lessons/notes that may not actually target the learning goals.
- Consider how you will organize the new material and content for the students, not just what material you’ll “go through.” How will you introduce that video or that text or that concept to prime students for learning and making progress towards the learning objective? How will this also promote student engagement? Remember: great lessons have less to do with the content, and more to do with the presentation of the concept. This includes build up, delivery, and the “so what?” at the end of the lesson.
- Always consider what is worth grading and what isn’t. You should only grade assignments that will indicate whether or not the students are making progress towards the learning objective. Rarely should you take a participation grade for the sake of giving a participation grade. If an assignment doesn’t relate to the learning objective, it doesn’t belong in the grade book. Bonus: you’ll grade less because the assignments you actually grade will be more indicative of student achievement.
- Always over plan. There is nothing worse than wasting valuable instructional time because you’ve gone through everything in your lesson plan and there are still ten minutes remaining in the period. A lot can happen in ten minutes. When planning, make sure you know what absolutely must be done before the bell rings, and then have a plan for what to do next if you finish earlier than expected. And of course, make sure that overflow plan aligns to the learning objective!
- Always list the necessary materials. You don’t want to walk into class with an awesome lesson plan, and then realize that you didn’t prepare the necessary materials to pull off the awesome lesson plan. Materials include visuals for the students, supplies they need to complete the lesson, technology that needs to be charged and ready prior to the lesson, and anything else that needs to be prepared before the students walk into class. It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.
- Consider the “why” for everything. Remember that story about the woman who cut both ends off the turkey every year because that’s what her mother always did? And her mother did it because that’s what her mother always did. And the grandmother always did it because her pan was too small to fit the turkey. By seriously asking myself the value of every aspect of the lesson, I can make sure I don’t cut the ends off the turkey without understanding why. I like to do this in the “Justification/Differentiation” section of my unit plan. It keeps me from employing strategies/practices because I’ve seen others do it – but without understanding why a strategy works, teachers are much more likely to use it inappropriately. This is a waste of time, and it is a waste of students’ valuable attention.
- Don’t forget what individual students need. There is no one-size-fits-all lesson because students are not standardized. They all have individual needs, preferences, behaviors, and personalities that require you to make subtle adjustments to your lessons for each class period. A magical lesson in second period may be nightmarish in fifth period. If you can anticipate this and alter your plans for each class, you’ll affect far more students than if you deliver the same lesson to all of your classes without modifications.